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The Real Helen Keller

Produced and directed by Liz Crow and Ann Pugh
50 minutes documentary, 2000
A Redweather production
Commissioned by Channel 4
With BSL interpretation and transcript

About

Helen Keller (1880-1968) was world famous as the little deaf blind girl, the ‘miracle’ child who triumphed over adversity, an image later enshrined by Hollywood in the film The Miracle Worker.

But behind the image was a flesh-and-blood woman, writer and radical activist, suffragette and Socialist, under surveillance by the FBI and in constant struggle against the contradictions of her public image. She was a woman who lived to old age, yet is fixed in the public imagination as an eternal child.

This documentary-biography examines the creation of Keller’s popular image and enduring iconic status and reveals the woman behind the myth.

The Real Helen Keller is produced in spoken English and British Sign Language.

Watch the film here.

Download script

Distribution enquiries: to Redweather Productions
Tel: (0117) 941 5854
Fax: (0117) 941 5851
Email: production@redweather.co.uk 
Web: www.redweather.co.uk/

Awards

Picture This Festival (Canada): Best over 30 minute documentary 2002

Disability Film Festival (London) Best of the Fest 2000, 2001

Stills

  • A monochrome archive photograph shows Helen Keller, around the age of eight, seated in a high barked armchair, next to a cloth-covered table, her legs resting upon a footstool. Clothed in a knee-length white dress and ankle boots, she reads with her left hand and points with her right hand out of shot.
  • Dressed in late Victorian gowns, Helen, aged about 8, stands next to a seated Annie, in her 20s. Helen drapes an arm around her neck and Annie fingerspells onto her other hand and looks tenderly at her pupil.
  • A monochrome archive studio portrait shows sitting turned to the right of the frame. She wears a white dress, with a corsage, and ruched at the neck. Her long dark hair flows over her shoulders and she smiles.
  • A monochrome archive studio image shows a young Helen seated at a fabric-draped table, dressed in a long, white, ornate Edwardian dress, her hands resting on a book of Braille. Behind her are screens decorated with with birds and the room is furnished with lavish fabrics and a Persian rug.
  • A monochrome archive photograph shows a teenage Helen sitting on a chaise facing a young Annie. Both are dressed elegantly, their hair gathered into buns, and Helen in a white dress with a draped floral shawl, Annie in black with mutton leg sleeves.
  • Helen sits at a desk before a Braille typewriter. Her hair is pulled back from her face into a braid and she wears a dark blouse with a high next and large bow.
  • Helen wears a white Edwardian blouse with wide sleeves and a tie bow at her neck. With her left hand, she pulls a rose to smell, while her right rests upon a Braille book on her lap.
  • A newspaper cutting shows Helen and Annie standing by a motor car, with Franklin Ardeff and Miss Margaret Vail, all smiling, and with Helen's dog Sieglinda. Miss Vail holds a poster reading 'Those not for Equity - only 27 (guaranteed harmless spirits back)'
  • Helen and Annie, both dressed in long white dresses, perched together on a low branch of a tree, a mastiff sitting on a platform at their feet. Annie reads from a book.
  • A monochrome archive photograph shows Helen, in her 20s, standing in an ornately carved doorway wearing a lavish floor-length frock dressed in layers of white lace. Her her left hand rest lightly on the door and she faces towards the right of the frame, her face pensive.
  • Helen and Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) sit on chairs. He faces the camera and she is turned towards him. Helen wears a floor-skimming dark skirt and a white blouse with high collar. Behind her stands Annie, her hand resting on Helen's raised palm to fingerspell the conversation. Behind Twain, another (unidentified) man stands, pipe in hand. The photograph is signed 'SL Clemens.'
  • The exterior of a New England clapperboard house on three storeys, with a second storey balcony. Helen, Annie and John sit at ground level with their dog on steps leading onto a porch.
  • A monochrome archive photograph shows Helen dressed smartly in a black dress with pearls around her neck, sitting in a library, where print books behind glass fill oak shelves. On her lap rests a large Braille book. Next to her, stacks of Braille books tower twenty-high.
  • A monochrome archive image shows Helen, in her 60s, visiting US disabled veterans in a medical facility.
  • A monochrome archive image shows Helen, in her sixties, amongst children dressed in school uniforms, who crowd in to get close to her. She has her arms around three of the children.
  • A monochrome archive image shows Helen, in her 60s, standing with Polly outside a large shop window, a mannequin and fancy boxes on displayed.
  • A monochrome archive image. The two women lean, smiling, towards each other. Helen reaches out her left hand to touch Eleanor Roosevelt's face while Roosevelt lightly guides Helen's arm.
  • Helen stands with Polly, amidst the ruins of buildings. Their hands touch to fingerspell.
  • Helen and Annie sit in an open top car. In the background a deep crowd of people can be seen smiling and jostling to get a look at her. Helen has her arms outstretched, waving at the crowd.
  • Helen stands on a stage in front of a vast crowd of people, their faces upturned
  • A portrait of the two women in mid-life. They are elegantly dressed in late Edwardian fashion, both wearing hats, and standing against a backdrop of a hedge of white blossom.
  • Standing at a ship's rail, land in the background and a seagull overhead, Helen smiles broadly and holds her hands together in front of her chest. She is dressed in late 1930s fashion, a calf-length skirt, silk scarf tied around her neck, a cloche hat and sturdy shoes.
  • Helen walks through stubble in a large field filled with hayricks. With Polly alongside guiding her, Helen and a farmer hold the bridle of a horse which pulls a cart towering with cut hay, a farm worker balanced on the top.
  • Seated alongside Polly in the rear of a car, both women wear deep frowns, Helen, in her 60s, looks deeply anxious, her mouth downturned.
  • Helen  is frail, dressed in a knitted bed jacket, her white hair piled up on her head. She sits on a wheelchair, a Braille book balanced on its tray, as she leans forward, absorbed in her reading.

Further Reading

Screenings

  • UK

    Deaf Film Festival, Wolverhampton
    London Disability Film Festival
    Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts
    University of Bristol
    D.Vercity European Disability Arts and Culture Festival, Lancaster
    Culture Unplugged
    filMedia Network
    Public & Commercial Services Union (PCS), London

  • Canada

    Toronto Disability Film and Culture Festival
    Picture This Festival, Canada
    Popcorn and a Movie, Access Awareness Association of Calgary

  • Sweden

    Swedish Deaf Film Festival
    Dov Film Festival, Stockholm

  • US

    University of Oregon
    Vanderbilt University, Tennessee
    disTHIS, New York
    University of California, Los Angeles

  • Broadcast

    Channel Four
    UR (Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company)

Credits

  • The Real Helen Keller

    Produced & Directed by
    Liz Crow
    Ann Pugh

    Narrator
    Juliet Stevenson

    Helen Keller Reader
    Laurel Lefkow

    Helen Keller played by
    Ailsa Fairley

    British Sign Language Interpreter
    Heather McKerlie

    BSL Script Interpretation
    Gail McGarva

    Camera
    John Podpadec

    Sound
    Paul Baker

    Rostrum
    Dave Blackman

    Editors
    Joanna Crickmay
    Greg Harris
    Bobby Sheikh

    Dubbing Mixer
    Roland Jones

    Production Manager
    Frank Spencer

    Archive
    American Foundation for the Blind
    Ann Fagan Ginger
    CORBIS
    First Run, Icarus Films
    Historic Films
    The Image Bank, London
    Library of Congress
    MGM, Clip and Still
    Perkins School for the Blind
    Radcliffe College

    Executive Producer
    Michael Darlow

    Production
    A Redweather Production for Channel Four

Press

  • At last, a flesh and blood portrayal of Helen Keller. A vivid portrait of a passionate
    woman who earned her place on the FBI’s wanted list for her radical views and
    political activism. A remarkable documentary with some fascinating material
    previously suppressed by the US authorities and the Keller family.

    Vertigo independent film magazine
  • A wry and witty look at the truth beyond the myth. Wonderfully sharp, with
    unexpected laugh-out-loud moments.

    Disability Film Festival

More Resources

Writings by Helen Keller

Helen Keller: Her Socialist Years Ed. P Foner , New York, International Publishers, 1967

Teacher: Anne Sullivan Macy, New York, 1955

Helen Keller’s Journal, New York, 1938

Midstream New York, Doubleday, Doran Co, 1930

Out of the Dark New York, Doubleday Page, 1913

The World I Live In, New York, 1908

The Story of My Life New York, Doubleday, Page Co, 1903

 

Writings about Helen Keller

Fillippeli, S (1985) The Revolutionary Rhetoric of Helen Keller (MA Thesis, University of Georgia)

Herrmann, D (1998) Helen Keller, A Life (New York, Knopf)

Klages, M (1989) More Wonderful Than Any Fiction: The Representation of Helen Keller (PhD thesis, Stanford University)

Lash, J (1980) Helen and Teacher (New York, Dell)

Oldfield, S (1989) Women Against the Iron Fist (Blackwell)

 

Websites about Helen Keller

Helen Keller Archive held by American Foundation for the Blind in New York

Information about Helen Keller’s work in Socialism from Marxists Internet Archive